Martin Regg Cohn
With elections in the air, green groups are seeing red in Ontario: They detect a more toxic political environment in the coming provincial campaign.
Previously, green was good. Coal was bad. Soot stank. Politicians eagerly harvested eco-votes.
But the broad consensus that crossed party lines is evaporating, replaced by rival visions of green energy, eco-fees and the Greenbelt. Anti-environmentalism has energized much of the political opposition, placing the Liberals on the defensive.
Now, a coalition of environmental groups wants to stop the opposition carping and curb the government backsliding. They are choreographing a province-wide sniff test to identify candidates who muddy the environmental waters or generate political fog on the campaign trail.
The campaign by Environmental Defence and other groups is non-partisan, targeting all four major parties for playing political footsie. It’s no secret that the Progressive Conservatives have stirred up opposition to wind turbines, but the Greens and New Democrats also try to have it both ways — paying lip service to renewable energy while backing diehard opponents of wind turbines.
There is no shortage of raw rhetoric to work with:
• A year ago, Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner assailed the Green Energy Act as a “horrendous failure” for giving licence to wind farms in the province with a “top-down” approval process.
• The NDP’s Peter Kormos was quoted in January as saying “wind turbines could end up being the biggest financial and corporate scam the province has witnessed since eHealth.” When the MPP publicly backed complaints from anti-wind groups, environmentalists sought clarification from the party.
• The Liberal government has reversed itself three times on offshore wind turbines, first imposing a moratorium in 2006, lifting it after the 2007 election, and reimposing a new one in this election year, taking the pressure off its MPPs in swing ridings.
• Under former leader John Tory, the Progressive Conservatives backed a Toxic Reductions Act to target cancer-causing compounds. Yet Tory MPP Randy Hillier complained earlier this year that “our nanny Premier Dalton McGuinty banned pesticide use across the province” and faulted him for a continent-wide outbreak of bedbugs.
• Tory MPP Julia Munro (York-Simcoe) belittled the government’s gradual phasing out of coal plants by 2014. “Even if we closed all the coal plants, it would make little difference to air quality,” she wrote last year.
• PC Leader Tim Hudak has consistently opposed what he calls the “greenbotch” legislation, saying the government’s landmark Greenbelt policy was “based on political science and not on environmental science.”
Hudak’s ongoing opposition to the Greenbelt remains a mystery to many. The Act draws much of its inspiration from the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, introduced by the Tory government of Mike Harris in 2001, and the Niagara Escarpment Commission set up by the Bill Davis Tories in 1973.
The PCs’ carping about coal shutdowns is also puzzling, since it is a logical successor to efforts by the Harris government to decommission the Lakeview Generating Station, when Tory environment minister Elizabeth Witmer proposed a shutdown.
It adds up to a catalogue of environmental expediency by politicians who bend with the winds. By so quickly discarding green policies, they are disowning their own environmental legacies.
The green movement wants to keep them true to themselves. Voters should, too.
Cohn: A sniff test for Ontario’s green politicians
Martin Regg Cohn